LACONIA — The City Council this week unanimously voted, on first reading, to amend the City Charter to authorize the City Clerk to declare a primary election unnecessary if no more than two candidates file for any particular office.
A public hearing on the amendment will be held during the next regularly scheduled meeting of the council on Tuesday, May 27. Voters will have the final say in November.
The amendment would also move the filing period for municipal elections, which currently opens on the first Wednesday in June and closes on the following Friday, to August, approximately a month before the primary on the second Tuesday of September.
In addition, the amendment would tighten the requirements for write-in candidates to qualify for a place on the ballot for the municipal election in November. The provision that the two candidates receiving the most votes in the primary are declared the winners and placed on the ballot, would carry a rider stipulating that a person who had not filed a declaration of candidacy and received fewer than 35 write-in votes would not be eligible for a spot on the general election ballot. The rider is intended to ensure that any write-in candidate who earns a place on the general election ballot has demonstrated an intent to serve by mounting a write-in campaign as reflected by polling a minimum number of votes.
The amendment would apply to the primary elections for the mayor and city councilors, seven members of the School Board, whose members serve staggered terms, requiring a primary every year, and three seats on the Police Commission.
Laconia is one of three of the state's 13 cities to conduct municipal primary elections. Both the other two — Manchester and Keene — follow the procedure prescribed by the amendment.
In the eight primary elections between 1997 and 2011 voter turnout has averaged 9 percent. In three of the past eight elections — in 2003, 2009 and 2011 — primary elections were held even though there were not more than two candidates for either mayor or any of the six council seats. Last year when there were three candidates for mayor but no more than two for any of six city council seats the turnout was 6 percent.
Reynolds said that cost of conducting municipal primary elections is approximately $8,600, which does not include about $1,000 for police details at the polling stations at Woodland Heights Elementary School and Laconia Middle School. The cost consists of $3,900 for printing ballots, $1,000 for materials at polling stations and $3,700 in wages of poll workers.
After the public hearing, the City Council will likley order the proposed amendments to be placed on the ballot for the municipal election. The amendment, including any substantive changes made following the public hearing, must be approved by the New Hampshire Secretary of State, Attorney General and Department of Revenue Administration.